Canonbury landlords defy pandemic to launch new pub

James Rix and Fergus Harrington outside their Canonbury pub, Knowhere Special

James Rix and Fergus Harrington outside their pub, Knowhere Special - Credit: Knowhere Special

Two brave landlords are defying the pandemic to launch a new pub in Canonbury, as pubs and restaurants gear up to start serving customers outside again on Monday.

After spending 20 years as event promoters, James Rix and Fergus Harrington were adamant they would never own their own venue.

But after the North by North West Pub in New North Road shut in March, they negotiated a deal with the landlord, and Knowhere Special Islington was born.

Laughing off suggestions he is a "madman" to launch a pub in the middle of the pandemic, James told the Gazette: "Anyone has to go into anything at the moment with their eyes wide open, and we can't last forever if we have to stop trading, but I believe in the hospitality and entertainment industry, and that people want to go out and experience different things. 

"Like all things out of difficult situations opportunities arise. We wanted to bring the idea we had in our heads together, and after conversations with the landlord started I think it's fair to say we were able to win his heart with our concept.

"The previous venue was an old school pub but we are a modern pub with beautiful cocktails and amazing food, and we are already fully booked for the first couple of weeks which is great."

The pub, which seats 50 in its beer garden, did already open for three days in December before the second lockdown was announced, which James regards as "not exactly an opening".

Knowhere Special in Essex Road

Knowhere Special in Essex Road - Credit: Knowhere Special

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Since then, they've been serving takeaway coffee, croissants, lunches and Sunday roasts, which has allowed them to retain their staff who weren't eligible for furlough.

"We are super grateful for that support," said James.

"It means we've kept the lights on and got chefs making food, but I can't wait to welcome people in here properly."

Contrary to previous coronavirus legislation, there is no requirement for a "substantial" meal to be served alongside alcohol, and no curfew - though people will need to be seated while eating or drinking.

Pubs and restaurants will have to wait at least another five weeks until they can welcome customers indoors again.

It is hoped most other indoor businesses will be able to reopen by the middle of May.

Knowhere Special in Essex Road

Knowhere Special in Essex Road - Credit: Knowhere Special